CLEWISTON -- Professional angler Scott Martin’s record-breaking win on Lake Okeechobee was a bittersweet victory for the Clewiston native. While he reveled in catching the most bass by weight in a 3-day Bassmaster tournament on the big lake Feb. 1-3, the conditions that made the fishing in the lake’s Harney Pond area so spectacular are the same conditions that could destroy the bass fishery.
“The lake is 467,000 acres,” Scott explained. “Right now, our fishable water is probably reduced down to 20,000 acres around the lake. We have zero acres of SAV (submerged aquatic vegetation) left. We have cattails and emergent vegetation, but no SAV.”
For the Bassmaster tournament, Martin said fishing was crowded in the few areas bass can now be found.
“There was about a 5-acre area of lake that the water stayed clean,” he explained. “All of these fish are so desperate for clean, clear water they are flooding into these acres. Bass only using a small percentage of the lake. They need clarity in the water for spawning. They seek a bedding spot. They seek certain conditions. Fish need clean, clear water with hard bottom to spawn. They need to get sunlight to the beds so the beds warm. In this whole area there are only five acres that are prime for these fish.”
While conditions make for great fishing in the short term, this is hurting the future of the fishery.
“All we are doing is hurting the bass population,” said Martin. “We are hurting the reproductive cycle. We had 90 boats in a 5-acre spot. We’re not giving the fish in the lake a chance to reproduce.
Lake Okeechobee’s current environmental problems are due to high water and the spraying of chemicals to kill invasive non-native aquatic plants, Martin said. In addition, state and federal agencies in charge of the lake have failed to invest any resources in improving the habitat.
Currently there are only four or five areas around the lake where the fish can spawn, Martin said. “Each year, we lose another one of those areas.”
The lake cannot withstand the high-water levels, he said. “The current path we are on, it can’t withstand it. We’re going to fail.”
Martin said during the three days of the Bassmaster tournament, anglers were crowding into a few small areas.
“We thrive on tourism around this lake,” he continued. People come here to enjoy the vast beauty of the Big O, where they can feel like they are alone with nature.